Reflecting on Black History Month 2023: Honouring Influential Black Women
As we look back on what has been a powerful and meaningful Black History Month, I invite you to join me in reflecting on the profound tapestry of Black women's contributions to history.
I was moved by the powerful theme: "Celebrating our Sisters, Saluting our Sisters, and Honouring Matriarchs of Movements." This theme excellently highlighted the extraordinary contributions of Black women throughout history and reminds us of their ongoing impact in our world.
My chosen 'Matriarchs of Movements,' included Kimberlé Crenshaw, Lady Phyll, Afua Hirsch, and bell hooks, all of which have left an enduring mark on me. Their stories, insights, and unwavering spirit have inspired me deeply and have been influential in my understanding of DE&I.
First on the list is Kimberlé Crenshaw, a pioneering advocate of intersectionality and reshaping social justice dialogues through emphasising the unique intersectional experiences of discrimination and privilege.
Kimberlé Crenshaw developed the concept of intersectionality in the late 1980s to address the overlapping and interrelated systems of discrimination faced by black women1. She observed that existing feminist and civil rights frameworks didn't fully capture the complexities of their experiences.
Crenshaw's groundbreaking work has significantly contributed to feminist and critical race theories, reshaping discussions on social justice and inequality. I first encountered her work during my university studies, particularly while researching the disparities faced by Black women in the creative industry.
Learning about intersectionality felt like a missing puzzle I needed to articulate my experiences as a Black woman and the experiences of being within a minority group. While I always understood the complex elements that minorities face within society, I never knew there was specific terminology. Learning more about Kimberlé Crenshaw's efforts and what has come from her advocacy and legal theory inspired me profoundly.
Lady Phyll is an influential British political activist who is devoted to advocating for racial, gender, and LGBTQIA+ equality. In 2005, Lady Phyll co-founded UK Black Pride, Europe's first event dedicated to celebrating and supporting LGBTQIA+ individuals of African, Asian, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, and Latin American descent.2 She also serves as the Executive Director of Kaleidoscope Trust, a charity championing LGBTQIA+ human rights across the Commonwealth.
What truly inspires me about Lady Phyll is her emphasis on community building and the creation of supportive networks, recognising their pivotal role in combating the isolation often felt in activist circles. Her perspective on the importance of fostering communities resonates deeply with me, especially as someone passionate about activism.
Moreover, Lady Phyll ardently advocates for understanding intersectionality in our daily lives, highlighting the essential need for accountability and trust within our communities to drive meaningful change.
Her dedication to promoting awareness and acceptance of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities within the broader context of racial and social equality has significantly shaped my perspective and continues to fuel my own understanding about the LGBTQIA+ community.
Afua Hirsch, is a prominent British journalist, author, and broadcaster renowned for her insightful commentary on race, identity, and social justice. Afua's work spans major news outlets like The Guardian and Sky News, where she explores topics such as politics, culture, and human rights.
Her critically acclaimed book, "Brit(ish): On Race, Identity, and Belonging," navigates the complexities of racial identity in contemporary Britain as a mixed-race woman.
Within this book she explores the profound challenges faced by individuals like herself, including the prevalent sense of being 'othered' while growing up in Britain.
This feeling is exemplified by the common query, "where are you really from?" This question, as highlighted by Herich in her Financial Times article3, carries significant weight. Although often asked without malicious intent, it becomes a disquieting common occurrence for individuals like me, a Black British woman with Caribbean migrant parents.
Hirsch expands on the unsettling nature of this question, something she notes has only been asked so commonly in the UK despite having lived in many countries around the world. The frequency of such encounters within the UK underscores a deeper societal concern. Hirsch emphasises that this question is seldom posed to white individuals in the same manner, underscoring the disparity in social interactions experienced by racial minorities. She asserts that when framed as a microaggression, this question ceases to be mere curiosity and instead becomes a subtle yet persistent reminder of difference. Further reinforcing a sense of ‘otherness’.
Through her impactful work, Afua has emerged as a leading voice in discussions about race and discrimination, igniting crucial conversations about inclusivity and diversity in our society. I am constantly inspired by how she delves into the nuances of racism, both overt and subtle, and discusses how it shape the sense of belonging for racial minorities in Britain.
bell hooks*, an influential American cultural critic, feminist theorist, and author, has profoundly impacted my understanding of feminism. One of her notable works, inspired by the words of Sojourner Truth, an acclaimed abolitionist and women's rights activist, marked my initial introduction to feminist theory from a Black woman's perspective—a viewpoint I deeply resonated with. It illuminated a path for me in comprehending the complexities of society as a woman.
I find inspiration in bell hooks' enduring legacy, which underscores the vital importance of inclusivity and diverse perspectives in our pursuit of equity and equality. She emphasised authentic dialogue and collaboration within communities. In her writings, she stressed the transformative power of love and empathy as the foundation for building resilient and inclusive communities.
bell hooks' influence remains vivid in my thoughts, especially after attending a panel discussion held in her memory in 2021 following her passing. The event featured various activists and writers reflecting on how her work had profoundly shaped, not only their professional lives, but also their personal journeys. Members of the audience were also welcomed to share their experiences and they were met with encouragement and understanding. Witnessing the panel felt like a continuation of bell hooks' legacy, creating a safe space and communal understanding among everyone present.
*bell hooks name is in lowercase letters both to honour her great-grandmother and to convey that what is most important to focus upon is her works, not her personal qualities.4
As Black History Month 2023 has drawn to a close, it's essential to reflect on the impactful theme that guided our celebrations this year: "Celebrating our Sisters, Saluting our Sisters, and Honouring Matriarchs of Movements." This theme not only acknowledged the immense contributions of Black women throughout history but also served as a reminder of the ongoing impact they make in society.
These exceptional individuals, the 'Matriarchs of Movements,' have left a lasting impression on me, displaying resilience, courage, and unwavering determination in the face of adversity.
I encourage everyone, both within and beyond the Black community, to embrace the profound lessons and inspiration these remarkable women offer. Let us consistently celebrate accomplishments, amplify our stories, and offer recognition to the invaluable contributions of Black women not only during Black History Month but throughout the year.
By acknowledging and honouring the influential Black women who stand out to us, we actively participate in preserving their legacies and ensuring that their impact resonates with generations to come.
1 Coaston, J. (2019). The intersectionality wars. [online] Vox. Available at: https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/5/20/18542843/intersectionality-conservatism-law-race-gender-discrimination
2 Nast, C. (2020). ‘Queer People Of Colour Are Resilient & Resilience Is Power,’ Says UK Black Pride Founder. [online] British Vogue. Available at: https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/uk-black-pride [Accessed 25 Oct. 2023].
3 www.ft.com. (2018)| Financial Times. [online] Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/84b4c0a2-0097-11e8-9650-9c0ad2d7c5b5.
4 Why bell hooks didn’t capitalize her name. (2021). Washington Post. [online] Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2021/12/15/bell-hooks-real-name/
Friday, 3 November, 2023
- Transgender Awareness Week: Advocating for Workplace Inclusivity and Equity Friday, 17 November, 2023
- Reflecting on Black History Month 2023: Honouring Influential Black Women Friday, 3 November, 2023
- World Youth Skills Day: An Interview With Sophie from Conscious Youth C.I.C Saturday, 15 July, 2023
- From Tokenism to True Colours: How to hone authentic support for the LGBTQIA+ Community in the Workplace Thursday, 22 June, 2023
- Mental Health Awareness Week Monday, 15 May, 2023
- Reflecting On Men’s Role In DEI Tuesday, 29 November, 2022
- National Braille Week: “I’m struggling with my eyesight at work” Friday, 7 October, 2022
- The power of recognising colleagues & experiences Thursday, 22 September, 2022
- Leaving with Dignity Wednesday, 27 July, 2022
- Reflections from the House of Lords Race Debate Friday, 22 July, 2022